E3 2008: Naruto: The Broken Bond Impressions
We check out the action-packed sequel to Rise of a Ninja.
The Naruto universe provides fertile ground for gaming--there's nothing better than ninjas going crazy with all sorts of amazing abilities. While many action anime adaptations go on to become fighting games (and there are quite a few Naruto fighting games as well), the fine folks at Ubisoft Montreal took that structure and tweaked it a bit for Naruto: Rise of a Ninja on the Xbox 360. That game featured a full story mode and platforming elements as well as the fighting-game battle system. Now Ubisoft shows us Naruto: The Broken Bond, a sequel to Rise of a Ninja that picks up right where the first game left off in terms of story and adds several new features to the mix.
Things open up with views of the ordinarily idyllic Konoha Village in turmoil and ruin, having been subjected to an attack by the fiend Orochimaru and his clan of ninjas from the village of Sound. The narrative in this game carries a bit of a darker edge as events get more serious and Naruto develops his powers more, staying true to the progress of the animated show. When the gameplay picked up, the first new element was evident: Instead of one character, players this time around will be able to control a ninja squad of three characters. At the beginning of the game our squad consisted of Naruto, the stern-looking Neji Hyuga, and lackadaisical Shikamaru. You'll be able to control the squad leader at any given time with the rest of the characters running along behind you. The ability to switch between characters is a mechanic you'll have to exploit in order to succeed.
At one point in the demo, Naruto and his team were running through the forest to Konoha Village when he suddenly was alert to danger in the surroundings, indicated by an icon above his head. There were no visible enemies around us, but when we switched to Neji and used his special byakugan jutsu (as the ninja abilities are called), we were able to see that the surrounding trees were laced with wire traps. Using Neji's jutsu, we navigated safely through the problem area.
Another troublesome situation was that the bridge leading to the village itself was gone, and we had to figure out a way to get across the river. The first step was to exploit Naruto's ever-handy clone jutsu, which supplied us with a large number of ninjas for use. The clones then stacked on top of each other via a short minigame where you have to hold your balance so the stack doesn't topple over. Of course, toppling over was the eventual point, forming a bridge of Naruto-clones that stretched over the water. Then Shikamaru used his shadow-controlling jutsu to creep a shadow over the human bridge and flip a switch on the opposite side.
The other way you can manipulate a squad to your full potential is in battle. The battle system switches to a fighting game interface once you engage, and you can freely move about and execute both melee attacks and real-time jutsu maneuvers. You can tag another squadmate to come in and replace you, and fight with that character instead if you wish or require. But another nifty thing is that you can build up power and then call another character while you're fighting to perform a devastating cooperative attack that's sure to pummel whatever's in your way.
The platforming elements remain intact as well, with Naruto racing around to catch enemy ninjas apart from his friends (every so often your squad will separate). We were told that one of the things Ubisoft Montreal attempted to accomplish this time were the construction of more open environments that players can explore, with multiple paths to take. They've also made some slight changes to other game elements, such as sequences where Naruto leaps between treetops. These sequences are now in first-person view to give a better sense of speed as you flit from branch to branch like a good little ninja student.
We also got to see part of a boss battle that pit Naruto against the Sound ninja Kabuto. On the surface it looked like a normal fight, except that executing normal moves against Kabuto didn't produce a dent in his health; he was invulnerable. When Naruto's clone attack was performed, it triggered a special cinematic and revealed a weakness in the opponent. However, he recovered and became enraged, so Naruto took additional damage until he triggered another special attack, the rasengan, which enabled a sort of quick-time battle system where you have to follow onscreen instructions to complete the attack. The boss fights look really great and dramatic with a lot of punch to them.
All this, and the game is also set to feature an online 2v2 battle mode, as well as a tournament mode. It seems evident that a lot of care is going into Naruto: The Broken Bond, and it looks like an attractive and accessible game that will treat fans of the anime right. Keep practicing your ninjutsu, as the game will arrive on the Xbox 360 this fall.